A LIVELY AND EFFERVESCENT PLACE OF INFLUENCE IN THE CITY
FINDINGS: MEMORY AND HERITAGE
The visit to the Notre-Dame-de-Protection church and the meeting with the promoters of the Agora des Arts highlighted the importance of this building, the first church erected in Rouyn-Noranda in 1931. Its significance is due in part to its Art Deco style, but even more so to the social and cultural attachment that the citizens have for this place of celebrations, meetings, exchanges, shows and festivities. This deep attachment is still reflected today by the use of the nave for weddings and other family and community events, which bring people of all generations back to this place that has seen them grow up and that has marked the stages of their lives.
For our team, maintaining the volume of the nave and portico (narthex) is essential. This typical volume, with its vault and its side aisles, strongly characterizes the Agora des Arts. It is recognized for its acoustic qualities and constitutes a familiar place for the spectators. It seems fundamental to us to preserve its most important spatial qualities and not to distort them by an accumulation of service functions. These will gain in efficiency by being judiciously relocated elsewhere. Freed from functional constraints and unfortunate spatial reconfigurations, the church portico will thus remain alive, luminous and above all appropriable.
In the same logic, the maintenance of the exterior staircase (reconfigured to fit our urban proposal) demonstrates our will to preserve this architectural and social heritage without denaturing it, but by adding new dimensions, new appropriations and new incarnations, which will become memorable for the next generations. A symbolic urban figure, the staircase is in fact a place of spectacle in itself, where the visitor becomes an actor and stages himself through his clothes, his gait, his actions, his attitudes. The spectator shows himself to the street and the street looks at him: he thus asserts his presence, even his existence! Located in the heart of the entertainment district / old Noranda, the church's staircase acts as a resting place, an anticipated stop for walkers and a meeting place. The decision to maintain the volume of the hall and the staircase by rethinking their use to offer them to the public in an optimal way, is therefore essential: it constitutes the heart of our architectural approach.
URBAN APPROACH: UNITY OF ACTION
The Agora des Arts is not only a name, it is a place: a meeting place with the city and a meeting place with the arts. The Agora, from which the organization takes its name, finds its materialization in the expression of an urban square - a place of life and artistic animation - at the intersection of 7th Street and Murdoch Avenue. On either side of the church's staircase, the grassy area will be brought to the same level as the sidewalk. To the east, this sidewalk bordering two streets will be extended by a mineral esplanade, which can be appropriated both in summer and winter and in a spontaneous and organized way. The esplanade creates a permanent and direct contact between the walker/spectator and the performance space. Inserted between paving stones of various tones, polished red granite slabs reflect the light and energize the surface. To the west, a mineral square will extend the esplanade and will host the sculpture Inflexion (the guitars). A discreet doorway to the rehearsal hall is set back and concealed in the new metal cladding of the church's foundation. On occasion, this door will provide direct access to the rehearsal hall. It may also serve as a drop-off point for small set pieces or touring boxes.
The esplanade is bordered by a long vegetated canopy that visually extends the church's staircase to 7th Street. In any season, buses will be able to park in front of it, in enfilade, and let their youthful spectators safely disembark and regroup there before entering the theater. Visitors will no doubt enjoy watching their bodies and movements reflected in the shimmering ceiling of the marquee. In addition to providing shelter from the rain or sun, the marquee will also act as a temporary ticket booth, as a meeting place, information and services during festivals or programmed or pop-up events, and as a permanent shelter for the piano audience waiting for a visiting musician. The marquee will be the support for the Agora des Arts' signage, for the display of shows, for exterior lighting and for the sound system of animations. Reconstructed and reconfigured, the church's staircase will be extended towards the esplanade by a stepped staircase, allowing spectators to sit down and comfortably enjoy the entertainment or simply to have a snack. The vertical walls supporting the staircase will be lined with red painted aluminum, marking without ambiguity the vocation of the former church as a performance space.
Without obstructing the views of the church or the night projections that are often presented on its façade, the marquee subtly materializes the idea of thresholds that was put forward in our initial conceptual approach. In response to the overhang of the first floor of the presbytery, it proposes a transitional space between the mineral esplanade and the grassy parterre. With its large spruce trees, the parterre is conceived as a contemplative garden, on the fringe of the urban activity of the street, offering users a shaded space for relaxation and a place of calm and discrete animation. Simple landscaping and removable benches will allow users to enjoy projections on the new facade, or even open-air cinema evenings. The mineral esplanade, the marquise and the grassy parterre are thus presented as urban sequences that can be identified and appropriated by different audiences and according to different occasions and seasons.
ARCHITECTURAL APPROACH: UNIT OF INTERVENTION
The frugality of the construction budget was a determining factor in our team's decision to concentrate all the organizational, spatial and constructive efforts in a single area that would communicate the new cultural vocation of the church. The narrow strip between the presbytery and the church (currently occupied by the sacristy and the garage) constitutes the priority intervention area of the project. This interstitial strip will be rebuilt with scale and theatricality, from Frédérique-Hébert Avenue to the marquee, which it joins at the main entrance.
A place of transition par excellence, fully fenestrated on two levels and allowing the eastern facade of the Notre-Dame-de-Protection church to shine through, this strip of light, 3.6 m wide, becomes the new public image of the Agora des Arts and ensures the architectural and signage presence of the promoter/broadcaster in the city. It constitutes a sort of "servant band", which groups together all the support spaces (entrance hall, main staircase, lateral foyer, exit staircase, elevator, ramp, footbridge and connecting corridor, electrical and mechanical networks). It thus supports the "served bands" that are the noble spaces of the church (portico/main foyer and nave/performance hall). These remarkable spaces will keep their formal purity and their autonomy of use, without technical or functional excrescences, and will remain recognizable for the public.
Located on the same level as the mineral esplanade, the main entrance is positioned at the very beginning of the light strip, where the marquee and the upper landing of the exterior staircase meet. It is overhung and protected by the projection of the light band on the second floor. The entrance gives access to a large vestibule, where the permanent ticket office is located, the first place to receive the public, to provide information and to control the theater. The metal cladding of the exterior staircase continues inside the light band, especially the foundation wall of the church. This cladding helps integrate the exterior with the interior and unifies the two floors by marking the presence of the main interior staircase. From the entrance, the main staircase extends along the brick façade of the nave. It leads to a walkway that overlooks the contemplative garden and leads to the foyer and auditorium. This appropriable space is a sort of antechamber to the foyer, where tickets can be checked and where bar tables with stools, temporary exhibitions, a piano for Sunday concerts, etc. can be set up. Staircase and footbridge together define a constantly changing path, which will welcome visitors without confining them to a specific place, and which will allow them to reach the public services located in the basement in a simple and pleasant way.
Parallel to the staircase, the flip-flop glass façade, a gently sloping ramp completes the pathway by providing access to the basement and the rehearsal room, the checkroom and washrooms, the gowns, the green room, the kitchen/conference or production room and the mechanical and electrical rooms. The ramp also leads to the high capacity elevator for mobility impaired visitors and for occasional passage of tour boxes or bar deliveries. Continuing this first ramp, another narrower one serves the basement of the presbytery and the second rehearsal room.
The judicious positioning of the elevator/lift is the key to the functional organization of the project. Opening on two sides, it connects all levels and mid-levels (basement, landing on Frédéric-Hébert Avenue, walkways, hall, stage and storage mezzanine). This eliminates the need for the passenger elevator and the platform at the nose of the stage planned for the PFT. This versatile equipment also gives great flexibility to the performance hall and the rehearsal hall, making it possible to hold separate public events simultaneously. In combination with the two ramps, the elevator can also serve both the basement of the presbytery and the mineral esplanade. For example, one could easily move one of the pianos from the foyer to the auditorium, stage, rehearsal room or even the esplanade, as well as any touring trunk, set piece, riser, chair, banquet table, catering cart, floor supply and outdoor furniture.
In order to reach the basement level of the presbytery, to build the elevator pit and to allow the passage of the exit/service staircase under the landing on Frederic-Hebert Avenue, a very limited area will be excavated between the existing foundations of the church and the presbytery. Concrete walls surrounding the staircase and elevator will provide the required fire resistance as well as the necessary load-bearing capacity to accommodate certain mechanical equipment on the roof. Concealed by architectural screens, other mechanical equipment will be placed on the pool roofs at the back of the church, at a distance from the stage to avoid noise and vibrations. This equipment will be easily accessible from the storage mezzanine.
SCENOGRAPHIC APPROACH: UNITY OF PLACE
The maintenance of the external staircase of the church is not possible without the conservation of the nave and its entrance portico, the narthex, in order to preserve their most eloquent spatial characteristics and to preserve their role and functioning. Although transformed and adapted to the vocation of spectacle, the nave and portico will remain legible and evocative for all spectators/visitors and will participate fully in the renewal of the building.
From our first reflections on site, it seemed essential to us to unify the hall and to free it from a balcony that was not very user-friendly, because it was far from the stage, difficult to access and not very efficient in terms of visual and acoustic comfort. Instead, we opted for the reunion of the 200 seats in a single, larger, more open space with a more enveloping décor. This simple and rigorous approach eliminates the bad seats of yesteryear and allows for a variety of room configurations (bifrontal and fashion show configurations, for example), using the same risers and seats. In addition to making the room more versatile, grouping the seats in this way frees up space for side access and for a true foyer, worthy of the venue and its purpose. Finally, our organizational strategy consists of grouping the internal connecting airlocks and staircases that will serve the top of the hall in a frontal configuration in an acoustic transition threshold, perpendicular to the nave. This threshold separates and isolates the activities in the foyer from those in the hall. The late spectators will be able to access the hall by these stairs and reach their seats by the top, without noise and without passing in front of the stage.
The grouping of seats and the creation of a perpendicular circulation strip allow us to hollow out the walls, floors and ceilings from the balcony to the roof structure. Only the beams that attach the facade and the columns that support the bell tower will be retained, to ensure structural integrity and to help redefine the new foyer. The reclaimed space is stunning in its verticality and abundance of light from the existing windows and doors (now glazed) and the new openings in the oeil-de-boeuf. The foyer and the upper landing of the exterior staircase will thus constitute a continuous indoor/outdoor space, as convivial as it is unexpected.
In the foyer, above the bar, we discover a public walkway that extends around the perimeter of the room. Accessible by the connecting stairs, it offers a luminous and abundantly glazed pathway, from which the spectators will enjoy a bird's eye view of the foyer during the intermission. The new foyer, more appropriable and adaptable, will become another performance space of sorts. One can imagine, for example, a group of about 40 children - some on the catwalk, others below - enjoying a circus show or a mini piano concert, or even interacting with actors or a speaker. It can also be used to create artistic projections on the wall that hides the staircase to the control room, to flood it with light effects using stage lights distributed throughout the space, or, on the contrary, to deploy stage curtains around its perimeter to darken it and take advantage of it in other ways.
CONCLUSION: VERSATILITY AND FLEXIBILITY OF PUBLIC SPACES
The architectural approach proposed here materializes our initial conceptual ideas. It allows for four autonomous and transformable performance spaces that can function simultaneously and independently: the urban esplanade, the performance hall, the rehearsal hall and the foyer. The icon of the new Agora des Arts, the light strip (with its staircase, ramps and multi-tasking elevator) plays a crucial role in distributing audiences and activities.
(From competitor's text)
(Unofficial automated translation)
2.1.1- The proposal offers a very functional and efficient performance hall where as mentioned by the designers, every seat is a good seat. In this sense, the proposal to eliminate the rood screen to place the foyer brings several benefits.
2.1.2- The proposed functions in the facade are relevant in order to offer animated spaces visible from the street.
2.1.3- The proposal to rebuild the exterior staircase and provide a new forecourt is a commendable gesture that respects the heritage, although it leads to confusion as to the identification of the main entrance. However, the solution of simply removing this element raised some questions.
2.1.4- The proposed canopy on Murdoch Street offers an interesting shelter from the elements. However, it somewhat cuts off access to the garden and reduces its integration into the ensemble.
2.1.5 - The architectural design of the new volume with the proposed long curtain wall expresses little of the cultural character of the building, while the transparency of its materiality will be effective at night, but not during the day. The treatment of the junction with the church could be improved.
2.1.6- The long ambulatory along the side of the church offers a link that is not fully optimized with the church and remains a circulation space difficult to inhabit.
2.1.7- The proposed positioning of the elevator is quite far from the main access and brings the public into contact with more technical and private areas.
2.1.8- The proposal to reduce to a single elevator/lift is interesting to rationalize construction costs, but eliminates any alternative option in case of failure.
(From jury report)
(Unofficial automated translation)
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